What a fun game! Don’t ever doubt what Ronald Acuña means to this team.  Our guys were trailing 4-3 in the bottom of the 7th, having just blown a 3-0 lead.  With a runner on first with two outs, Snit turned to Ronald to pinch hit for Travis Demeritte.  El de la Sabana drove a 1-2 pitch into the left field corner, scoring Olson from first and tying the game at 4.  Dansby followed with a walk, and Ozzie drove them both in with a bloop double to left.  The Braves took a 6-4 lead that held up the rest of the way.

Jethro Tull started for the Hammers, and for 5 innings he looked better than he had all season, shutting the Fish out on just one hit.  Anderson was great through five innings, but Trevor Rogers was perfect for the Fish through 4 innings.  The Braves bats had been silenced the night before by Nola, and it was looking like the brief offensive turnaround earlier in the week was over.  But Riley led off the bottom of the 5th with a long homer to left.  A d’Arnaud double, a Contreras double, and a Demeritte single let to two more runs and a three run lead. 

In the 6th, Anderson allowed an infield hit on a grounder to first in which Ian beat the runner to the bag but missed the bag (he actually did touch the base, I think, but the umps on the field and in NY disagreed).  Anderson promptly surrendered a two run shot to Garrett Cooper, and then after a walk and a two run homer by Aguilar, all of a sudden the Braves were trailing 4-3.  Even more importantly, Ian was no longer in line for a Win. Anderson’s change up had been terrific for five innings, but on both home runs it looked like he hung a change.

Jackson “Pepper Sprout” Stephens continues to impress.  I’m still not sure where they found this guy, but he has been dominant.  He finished the 6th without any further damage and went on to toss two scoreless innings.  Most significantly, thanks to Ronnie’s heroics, Stephens got the Win, his first as a Brave.  Minter and Jansen closed it out for the victory.

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Greg Maddux was the smartest pitcher who ever lived.  It’s always dangerous to make comparisons to Maddux, because no one is Maddux.  I’m not saying Mike Soroka is another Maddux; God forbid I curse him with that (I’ve made that mistake with other young hurlers).  But in the way he talks about pitching, Mike Soroka is the smartest and most impressive young pitcher I’ve ever heard . Soroka spent a couple of innings with Chip and Frenchy in the “booth” they had set up in the bleachers and it was a delight to hear from him. I’d love to see him on the mound again for the Braves.  If anyone can overcome two Achilles tears, this guy has the personality, the smarts, and the drive to do it.

Tyler Matzek was also quite impressive in a couple of innings in the booth.

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Yesterday was the birthday of Ralph Waldo Emerson.  Emerson was perhaps the most influential American intellectual of the 19th Century. Emerson was the godfather of the philosopher William James, who is noted as the “Father of American psychology” and as the creator of the philosophical school of Pragmatism.

William James’ namesake, the sabermetrician Bill James, has been on my mind lately. I discovered the Bill James Abstracts in the early 1980’s.  For those who didn’t experience it, it would be difficult to imagine the impact James had on our thinking about baseball.  James could be highly critical of professional sportswriters and professional baseball men.  He once described the difference between his approach and that of daily sportswriters: “Traditional sportswriting begins with the answer and explains it; the Baseball Abstract begins with the question and tries to find the answer.”

James never accepted the received wisdom; he always looked to see whether the evidence supported whatever traditional baseball folks believed.  He was always looking for more information and more data.  Readers of Bill James in the 1980’s knew more about baseball than many front office execs.  By reading the Abstracts, they had access to more evidence and smart analysis than the guys who ran the teams.  That sounds like hyperbole, but I firmly believe it’s true.  There were a lot of not so smart guys running baseball teams, in the front office and on the field, back then.  Executives really did think that a guy who hit .295 with little power and few walks (Enos Cabell) was a better hitter than a guy who hit .240 but led the league in walks and hit 40 homers (Darrell Evans). Heck, the Braves brain trust in the seventies evidently thought Willie Montanez and his shiny .300 average was better than Evans. Actually, this was before I had heard of Bill James, but even I knew that trade was dumb.

But it is no longer true that front offices are filled with hacks who don’t know anything useful.  Teams have an enormous amount of data and analysis at hand than they did a few decades ago.  And they have lots of smart people on staff who know how to use it. Take defensive shifts for example.  When the Braves deploy the shift, they are not just blindly following conventional wisdom.  They are positioning defenders based on thousands of data points.  Sometimes the shift doesn’t work—and the fans scream how stupid it is—but I guarantee the Braves know what they are doing here.  Shifting saves more runs than it cost them; if it didn’t, they wouldn’t continue to do it. 

Fans like to believe that they know more than the people in charge of their team.  We see it in the comments here–I’ve been one of those guys myself on occasion.  But the truth is the folks in the front office and on the field know more than any of us.  Decisions are made based on tremendous amounts of evidence and data and sophisticated analysis, not on conventional wisdom. Bill James is responsible for that revolution. 

[OK, I hear some of you thinking that Snit doesn’t understand some things as well as you do.  Like how Ian always struggles the third time through the order.  You may be right about that one.  But I guarantee you he understands a lot better than any of us what it takes to keep a team playing hard for a whole season.  And that’s perhaps the most  important thing for a manager to know.]

You still occasionally hear folks say that the obsession with statistics and data takes the fun out of the game.  With all due respect, they don’t know what they are talking about.  I loved baseball before the Bill James revolution, but I’ve enjoyed baseball even more since then. 

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On this date in 1992, the Braves were seven games below .500, and seven games out of first place.  Even worse, they were tied for 6th—last place—in the N.L. West.  Struggling was of course nothing new for the Atlanta Braves; in their then 26 year history, the Braves had had a winning record only 7 times.  But 1992 was supposed to be different.  The 1991 edition had been the most successful Atlanta Braves team ever, going to the World Series for the first time and coming within an eyelash of winning it all.  Hopes were high for the ’92 team.  So it was especially frustrating to the fans that the team struggled so in April and May.  Many complained that the team was complacent, that they didn’t have fire in their bellies, or that the 1991 success was a fluke.

The Braves won on May 27, and went on win 9 of the next 10 and 21 out of 24.  The team never looked back as they finished 98-64 and won the division by 8 games.

I’m not predicting that kind of turnaround, but the season is very long.  There is ample time for this year’s team to make a run.  We’ve already proven we can be the most streakless team in history.  Enough of that.  Let’s take our cue from the 1992 team: May 27 is a good date to begin a long winning streak. 

That means that Tucker Davidson will have to beat Sandy Alcantara Saturday at 4:00, but stranger things have happened.